How not to own up

David Pogue of the New York Times recently panned the Barnes & Noble e-Reader, the Nook. But in his review he missed something.

Barnes & Noble has been claiming that the Nook weighs less than it really does.

OK, not by much. The company says the thing weighs 11.2 ounces. In fact, it weighs 12.1 ounces. (I discovered this when my daughter set it on a home postal scale. Later, I confirmed it with a fancier scale at the actual post office.)

That’s right: Barnes & Noble conveniently shaved 7.4 percent off of the Nook’s weight, and hoped nobody would notice.

Well, OK. What’s 7.4 percent? I mean, we’re talking about an understatement of one ounce here. Who cares?

First of all, you might care if you have to hold this hard plastic slab in your hands for hours, as you must when you actually read books on it. (USA Today’s Ed Baig almost uncovered the secret when he wrote in his review: “Nook weighs 11.2 ounces compared with 10.2 ounces for the Kindle. I felt the extra ounce.” No, Ed–you actually felt the extra TWO ounces.)

The really interesting part of the saga begins when he contacts B&N for their reaction. They claimed it was all the result of an innocent mistake:

“Given the higher than anticipated demand for Nooks last year, Barnes & Noble made some minor variances in the manufacturing process to get units to customers more quickly,” says spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating. “Those minor changes resulted in a marginal weight difference from the pre-production specs, making Nook 12.1 ounces. We are in the process of updating all references to the weight.”

Mr Pogue isn’t taken in.

No “oops,” no “we apologize for the error?” Nope; nothing but a cheesy attempt to spin this gaffe into a marketing message. The company blames the error on “the higher than anticipated demand.” …

And by the way — isn’t it funny that Barnes & Noble knew about the error, but never bothered to correct it until today, when I caught them and let them know I’d be publicizing it?

The moral he draws from the story is that if B&N faked something so simple that it could be checked with a simple postal scale, then reviewers will now have to be sceptical about all the tech specifications of devices they are given to test. For example, what about all those ludicrous claims of laptop battery life? How come no actual user ever seems to be able to get anywhere near the claimed usage time out of his/her machine?

For me, though, the more acute lesson comes from the way B&N tried to spin the story (“higher than anticipated demand”) when they were caught out. Why does nobody — well, almost nobody — ever admit a mistake any more?